Friday, May 15, 2009

My Journey to Publication - Part IV

Agents – Who can find a virtuous one?
Rhonda McKnight

I’m a silly person. Everyone who knows me well learns that pretty quickly, and I find humor in just about any situation that doesn’t involve sickness or death. I can also readily find a scripture that matches up with whatever the drama may be; sometimes that’s done in a serious vein, sometimes to flesh out the irony. When I began my hunt for an agent the one that immediately came to mind was Proverbs 31:10. You know it ladies, The Virtuous Woman. How did I equate Proverbs 31 to finding an agent? Like a good woman, agents seem to have great value if you have one, but as the word in Proverbs says, “Who can find one?” And who can find one who’ll work with a newbie author? Dare I throw in an African-American newbie in a niche genre? (I just guffawed). I could do a disscertation on the agent thing using chapter 31 of Proverbs, maybe another day. Maybe when I've been published longer and know more.

Agents are an enigma to me. In the whole big US of A where 300K plus books are published every year by nearly as many authors, there’s a very small list of people who are considered reputable agents. If that’s not a job that needs to be on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list of “Most Needed” I don’t know what is. Suffice to say the agents’ low supply and high demand lead to this little thing that bugs people like me crazy: the ability to be picky.

I began my search for an agent on January 1st after I left my parents house. I had done some preliminary reading about what to look for, so I created a short list of about ten agents that I was interested in. I had a few “yeah right” choices in the mix, but it was largely comprised of agents who specialized in Christian or Inspirational fiction that had at least one African-American client. (I hate being alone at a party.) I email queried them all and two responded. Both said thanks, but no thanks, and good luck looking. I quickly made a list of five more. Emailed them. None responded. Five more. Not one answer. I waited and waited. Checked my email every fifteen minutes for three weeks and no one answered me. No one wanted to represent me.

From the agents perspective I kinda understand the rejection. Newbie author – they're thinking what are you going to sell – 5,000 copies if you hustle a little. That’s a buck a book if you average gross and net sales royalties. They get 15% commission. Earnings of $750 a year on the high end for them. Not a mint, but come on my book was sold. They didn't even have to shop it. $750 to make a few phone calls, negotiate a “standard” contract and send a few emails a year asking me how I’m doing and how’s the 2nd book coming. We’re talking maybe 5 hours of work all year; $150 an hour isn't bad money, but then again my day job isn’t on the BLS list of jobs most needed, so what do I know about money.

Despite what I considered good agent bait (easy money), I couldn’t bag one to save my life. I’ll always think highly of the few that took the time to respond in the “negative” to my query. If I’m ever in the market for a new agent, I’d come begging at their inbox again. So now you’re wondering – did I ever get an agent? And if yes, how? More crazy faith? Not quite. I asked an author friend to refer me to hers.

Lesson #10 – You’ve already learned this one, but I can't say it enough: network and make friends. People will help you.

My best-est author friend in the world, Sherri Lewis, gave me a referral to Crichton & Associates. Ms. Crichton, who I now call by her first name, telephoned me and conducted a quick 1-2-3 interview. She asked my about my goals, my future projects, my plans for marketing – yada, yada, yada. She didn’t hear anything crazy or unrealistic, so she offered to represent me. I asked her a few questions, but at this point I was pretty desperate. Sherri and some of the other authors I knew whom she represented had good things to say. Then there was the added benefit of her being an attorney who specializes in contracts. I learned from attending writers' conferences that the best agents are lawyers because they understand the legalese. By the beginning of February, I want to say February 13, 2007, I had an agent. There was much ((((((clapping))))))) and wiping of my brow.

So what's next? "Ummm, can somebody tell me when my book is coming out?"

See you on Tuesday.

Thanks to all of you who are following this story. I'm loving the comments and questions.

For those of you who have just started today, scroll down and start at the beginning.

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La Monica R. Smith said...

More great insight Rhonda. Keep it coming!

Ty said...

You were one of the blessed ones to get a contract without an agent. Do you recommend writers search for an agent first? I'm still not sure how to go about the process.

As always thanks for sharing!

Rhonda McKnight said...


I think the agent should come first. They have their ear to the street, therefore they know what houses are looking for, what some of them have acquired already, who's looking for newbies, who's starting a new imprint, etc. etc. They also have the connections that will actually get your submission read by someone rather than waste in the slush pile. And some houses won't even take your work unless it's through an agent.
But getting an agent isn't easy, so I did what I thought was best for me. The two houses I was interested in took unagented submissions, because largely in the AA Christian market they're looking for new talent. I decided to captialize on those open doors. I also suspected that those doors could close, as it did with my publisher less than six months later. Now you have to have an agent to submit. So I just jumped in where the water was warm.

However if getting an agent was just a matter of writing a good book, I would have agent searched and let them do what they do.

Thanks for reading!

PatriciaW said...

I can't believe I missed this post in the series. This is one of the best "Call" stories. Don't see too many of them from our side of the fence.

Wonder what the issue was, since everyone makes it seem if you have contract in hand, agent will follow.

Got it. Network, network, network.

Daphine Glenn Robinson said...

Woo hoo! More great info. I'm believing in some crazy faith for myself!

Daphine Glenn Robinson

Ty said...

Thanks, Rhonda! I always appreciate your advice and willingness to share. Now if I can just get to a place where I have a manuscript totally complete and ready to submit. :)